friday feast: black cake from the woman in white

“Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Only authenticated daggeureotype, circa 1846-47,
taken at Mt. Holyhoke Seminary.

Most of the time, when I think of Emily Dickinson, I imagine her in a white dress, sitting at the little writing table in her upstairs bedroom at the Homestead in Amherst, pouring her heart out in a letter, or fearlessly penning another one of her flaming, pithy gems.

Dickinson Homestead, Amherst, MA (Emily’s bedroom = 2 windows, upper left). photo by Water Rat

Somehow it never occurred to me before that she probably also wrote a fair amount of poems in the kitchen or pantry, scribbling stray thoughts down on scraps of paper or in the margins of newspapers. Surely while she was gathering, adding, or mixing ingredients, inhaling aromas fruity, pungent, spicy, or sweet –she was also mentally combining fleeting images and impressions according to her prevailing mood. Writers, after all, are usually bound by 24-hour recipes.

Handwritten manuscript of “Wild Nights.”

While Emily celebrated the domestic realm as Amherst’s most well-known recluse and eccentric, she did not hesitate to defy certain traditional expectations to meet her own ends, especially with regard to writing. In The Cambridge Introduction to Emily Dickinson (Cambridge University Press, 2007), Wendy Martin states, “Unable to have an office or workplace of her own, Dickinson created one out of the kitchen hearth, the verdant garden, and the small writing table in her upstairs bedroom.”

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